“Looking out into the harbor, normally you’d see at least 20 to 30 boats on moorings, and there’s really hardly any at all,” said Rockland Harbor Master Matt Ripley, during the May 18 continuation of budget talks for the City.
All but one large cruise ship have canceled for the 2020 summer season, with the remaining one still holding to a possible late-September berthing. Itineraries for the small ships, which includes American Cruise Line, are canceled up to June 20, though ACL remains in contact with Ripley on a weekly basis as state, local, and community sentiments continue to shift within the pandemic.
“They [ACL] seem to be pushing it further out into the summer,” he said. “But they are hoping to get here sometime in the summer.”
On the heels of a good year for transient boats in 2019, the pandemic’s downturn has left the Harbor Master’s Office trying to decide how much money, labor, and materials to allot now, and in fiscal year 2021 – starting July 1.
“Usually, right about now, is when everybody registers their boats,” said Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell.
For the registration process, Rockland is moving into a new mooring permitting system to track, invoice, and communicate with the mooring holders, said Ripley. This system is anticipated to more accurately portray the moorings in the harbor.
“No mapping out. It’s all online,” he said. “You get online and pay. That’s more 21st century.”
Yet, as this new system increases speed ahead, it’s usage may be derailed by pandemic.
Though boat owners have been contacting Ripley to ask about the current harbor situation, the number of people actively committing remains low. A lot of Harbor business is from out of state, he said. A lot of what happens depends on the state regulations imposed on those from outside of Maine.
Therefore, Ripley told Council that he anticipates lower numbers of dockage and mooring usage, and with this estimation, plans to put only about half the number of landings in the water by the end of May. If the need increases afterward, he’ll add more.
“Looking out in the harbor in the last week, my sense is that it might be a late summer,” said Ripley. “If we have a summer.”
This plan prompted Councilor Valli Geiger to ask whether the Harbor Master’s Office could cut wages in half for the part-time dock stewards who assist Ripley through the warm weather months, saving about $7,000.
The busiest part of the summer is usually July and August, and around festivals and fairs, according to Ripley.
The first concern is that everything is an unknown, including people’s mindsets.
“I was talking to a few marinas,” he said, “and it seems that people are just slow getting the maintenance done, and getting the boats in the water. I anticipate a slow spring, but who knows. Maybe we’ll see a big increase towards middle of summer...people wanting to get on their boats and away from society.”
The second concern is, the usually-relied upon maintenance help from work-release inmates at Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren will not be an option this summer during the pandemic. Therefore, if water recreation increases in the months to come, Ripley would be left shorthanded.
Revenue for the city, through the harbor, will be lost due to the cancellations of cruise ships and events, according to Ripley.
Within that revenue line – but does not directly affect taxpayers – is a reserve account for future harbor redesigns. That fund would go to such concerns as sea-level rise requiring the Harbor Master’s office to be relocated, or anything having to do with the general vicinity, according to City Manager Tom Luttrell.
That money is generated from events at Harbor Park. With no event revenue this year – the Blues Festival being the biggest weekend – $25,000 will not accumulate in the redesign account this year.
Revenue, activity, and it’s impact on the future all remain up in the air, as a result of community constraints.
“Two thought processes: One we’re going to have a really rough summer and not have a lot of boats at all,” said Ripley. “On the flip side of that, maybe people really just want to get out, get away from things. Do their 14-day on their boat somewhere, and pull in. So, we might see a lot of boats. I really don’t know.
“The plan is to put about half of the public landing docks in by the end of this month. Open up shop. And see where it goes.”
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org